Serving five military governors as commissioner in various ministries is is not an easy task but that was exactly what Eze Rowland Asobie did. He was commissioner in East Central and later Imo State between 1975 and 1979 during which time he worked under five different military administrators. Today, he is the traditional ruler of Amakama Akwete community in Ukwa East Local Government Area of Abia State. Eze Asobie, who is also Chief Consultant Eye Surgeon and Managing Director of Delta Hospital, Aba, had seen it all in local administration.
In this interview with OKEY SAMPSON, he spoke about corruption in the country and the need to scrap the House of Representatives when the constitution amendment gets underway.
In the beginning
Before I became a traditional ruler, I was a commissioner in the then East Central State and later Imo State. I was Commissioner for Health in East Central State and in the first three years in Imo State, I was the Commissioner for Education. Later I was commissioner for Information, Youth and Culture in the last year that was 1975 to 1979.
I served under five military governors, Cols. Anthony Ochefu, John Atom Kpera, Commander Ndubuisi Kanu, Commodore Adekunle Lawal and Col. Sunday Adenihun. These were the governors under which I served.
We were only nine commissioners then. Of all the governors mentioned, Kanu was more dedicated, yet he was removed through petition written by our own people.
In the first three years, I served under Ochefu, Kpera, Kanu and Lawal as Commissioner for Health but the last one, Adenihun, I served as Commissioner for Education, Information, Youth and Culture. All the ministries were packed into one as we were only nine commissioners.
Working as commissioner in military regime
It was a very interesting experience serving under five military governors. We were drilled like the military people; everything was urgent, with immediate effect and straight forward. I can tell you that under Kanu everything was done straight forwardly, there was no cheating. For instance, the Federal Government awarded contract for Universal Basic Education (UBE) schools for N15, 000 and we cut it down to N7, 500, the same size of building.
When we awarded contracts, we chose our contractors by closing our eyes and picking different, different names on the table and then we will tell (Moses) Udebuwa (then Secretary to the State Government and Head of Service) to go and announce them immediately so that nobody would claim that he awarded the contract. For instance, in Aladinma Housing Estate, four bed-room houses were awarded for N25, 000; the two bed-room houses were given for N17, 000 and one bed-room houses, for N11, 000 at that time. And when we finished it, we were happy because we were able to build over 250 houses. The same thing with the secretariat, everything was done on the table and everybody knew what was happening. And in those days, before we awarded contracts for roads, we calculated how much, I can’t remember now, but just a little amount for a kilometre of road and so that was the situation then.
My salary then
My salary then per month as a commissioner was N1, 000 and with a tax of N200, we were left with N800 a month and with that meagre amount, we were able to carry out a lot of developmental projects. However, money had some value then because with N1,000, you maintain yourself in a month and pay school fees and so on. Also at that time, the civil service wasn’t over bloated like in Abia State now, I understand their statutory allocation is N2.6 billion, out of this, they use N2 billion in paying civil servants, and it wasn’t like that then. But the bottom line remains that people then were more dedicated, most of us, in fact, refused to serve as commissioners, but when our people insisted we should go, we went in, fully dedicated.
Unwise government expenditure
Presently, governments hardly embark on capital projects, but at that time, capital expenditure was more than half of the total expenditure.
If the total expenditure was to be N100 million, for instance, we spent N60 million on capital expenditure and N40 million on recurrent.
But now it is the other way round and it’s not helping us at all. A lot of money is being spent on legislators. Take the Federal Government for example, the 360 people in the House of Representatives earning a lot of money, the Senators, earning a lot of money, there is little left for government to work with. I think the problem now is a lot of money being spent on recurrent instead of capital expenditure.
Corruption in the system
At that time, corruption was minimal, there were one or two bad eggs and they were flushed out. I remember a commissioner was removed because he revealed executive council secret to a former Permanent Secretary and another commissioner was also removed because he bought refurbished equipment for the agriculture department. It was just those things; there was no question of going to bargain with anybody for one per cent or 10 per cent or anything like that. We wanted to work, to please people, to ensure that we help the helpless. Let me give you an example, in my time, apart from the neighbourhood schools we established, I made it such that those teachers who had been teaching, mostly who were called grade two teachers who had taught for 35 years did not undergo the punishment of doing higher elementary training. I told them to go to teachers’ training school at Irette to upgrade their knowledge and that was the situation then.
It appeared that the monster called corruption has come to live with us. For all I know it is a monumental thing, it is difficult for me to stick out my neck and say this is what we will do because when once it spreads to the grassroots, it is very difficult to curb. You remember the French revolution, what caused it was that there was a lot of corruption and some people came out to stop it by saying, ‘we are going somewhere, we are going nowhere’ and it was also a time of insecurity. This is exactly what is happening in our country now.
I think what will happen is that those at the top should set example. People who will rule the country should be like (Indira) Ghandhi, they should be selfless leaders. There are some of them who are still living; they should come out so that others below will copy. And you don’t flaunt cars, I still have a car I bought in 1975 before I became a commissioner, it’s a Mercedes Benz car which has been there for 37 years. That’s what I am using most of the time. You don’t look at what people have, don’t look at mundane values, think of salvation which is the most important thing. This is very, very important
because we were delivered from our sins by grace through the shedding of blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, always think of the last day of salvation because whatever money one has can get lost, but the important thing is the family integrity. I think I should appeal to
particularly the Igbo, you know before, the Igbo man wherever he went to would be employed because of his honesty but now it’s no longer like that. We have to change in order to get back our integrity.
Amendment of the 1999 constitution
Yes, I am in total support of that move by the National Assembly. They should amend the constitution to correct the imbalance as it affects states and local governments’ creation in the South-East. We were short-changed by one state; they should amend the constitution to make room for the creation of Aba State. You find out that in the North-East, for instance, they have seven states, but here we have only five. So, the South-East is due to have another state so that we can be at par with other zones.
In the constitutional amendment, the national assembly should also look into the issue of fourth tier government. The advantage there is that it gets to the grassroots, but they should not be paid, they should work with the traditional rulers. It’s like community government and I think that is very essential. One person should be elected from the community to represent them at the local government.
The North has that type of hierarchy, but their own is emirate council, in the West, you have the Obas and Baales, but in our own case, there is nothing like that.
Another area that is worthy of looking into in the amendment of the constitution is the size of the National Assembly, it is over bloated.
In fact, the House of Representatives should be scrapped and we make do with the Senate. The money that is being spent annually on the 360 members of the House should be used for the development of the country.